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City Manager Ken Larking and Police Chief Philip Broadfoot provided an update Tuesday night to City Council on the steps taken to reduce violent crime in Danville. The steps include additional resources for the Police Department and the formation of gang and youth task forces.
The spike in homicides; however, are not representative of the city as a whole, said Larking and Broadfoot.
“While I do not wish to downplay the tragic violent crimes that occurred recently and the effect they’ve had on families in our community, it is important to point out that these actions are not anywhere close to representing the people in our community,” Larking said.
Larking pointed to a recent newspaper story about two sisters in Danville who are first-generation college graduates that plan careers to help others. He also pointed to last weekend’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for a local craft brewery in the River District and a highly success food truck rodeo as examples of positive events in Danville.
“These are the stories that better represent our people and the things happening in our community,” Larking said.
Broadfoot said the number of homicides that have occurred over the last 17 months is of great concern, but the overall crime rate has been decreasing for 17 years.
“For 2016, our number of major crimes — murder, forcible sex, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson — dropped to the lowest level since 2000 — from 3,0003 to 1,876, which is a 30 percent decrease even while factoring in our population decrease,” Broadfoot said.
In 2016, the city experienced a record 16 homicides. This year, there have been seven homicides. In comparison, there were six homicides in 2015 and three — which matched a record low — in 2014.
“Records kept since 1953 in Danville show that murders occur in cycles,” Broadfoot told City Council. “The factors that affect these cycles are varied, but in the past usually have been generational and cohort driven. What we are seeing though is a trend toward shorter cycles and greater extremes between the numbers of murders.”
Broadfoot said the reason can be attributed to younger offenders, gang affiliation, social media and access to firearms.
“The younger offenders are quick to resort to violence, the gang mentality glorifies violence, social media exacerbates conflict, and access to firearms makes that conflict more deadly,” Broadfoot said.
At least five of last year’s 16 homicides and four of this year’s seven are linked to gang activity, he said. In addition, Danville police officers have been shot at in four separate incidents.
Gang activity is not limited to Danville, Broadfoot said.
“We are seeing this happen throughout the Southside region, including the cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg,” he said. “The cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem in North Carolina are also experiencing similar increases in murder.”
In response, Broadfoot outlined 10 initiatives, which include an increase in the number of search warrants executed by the special investigations unit. Since November, the unit has executed 57 search warrants, of which 25 were focused on gang participation and 32 were drug or firearm related.
He also said state and federal agencies are supplying additional personnel to assist the Danville Police Department. For example, the Virginia State Police has been assigning two troopers to work on weekend to assist the Danville street crimes unit and special investigations unit. For the summer, the Virginia State Police will assign an additional five full-time troopers to Danville to work in the areas of drug interdiction and gang suppression.
“I am confident that the suppression activity efforts presented tonight can have a demonstrable effect in the near term on gang activity, and as a result, on our murder rate,” Broadfoot said. “The Police Department cannot sustain this effort alone. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. If the attraction to joining a gang is not eliminated by a concerted community effort, our success in suppression will be short lived.”
Mayor John Gilstrap commended the police department on its efforts, including the joint work with other law enforcement agencies.
“Sometimes it is not known all the work” that goes into police work, Gilstrap said. “We as a city are not just watching. We are being proactive.”
Larking told City Council the gang task force that was created earlier this year has met several times and has adopted the comprehensive gang model as recommended by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The youth task force also has been meeting. The task force includes more than 20 organizations that serve youth and families in the city.
“Our work on the gang task force and youth task force these past few months have shown me that we need to take a three-pronged approach to combatting youth violence and gang activity,” Larking said. “This includes suppression (by our police department), prevention and intervention.”
He continued, saying, “As our discussions have progressed, it’s becoming clearer that the likely result of our effort on the gang task force will be a recommendation to invest more in intervention. This involves having people trained to look at the warning signs for youth who may be attracted to gang activity and getting them and their parents the support they need to put them on the right path.”
Larking called for the community to assist by becoming engaged through sharing information with police and directing children to positive activities.
River City TV airs live all Council business sessions. The first rebroadcast will be at 8 p.m. Thursday. Watch it on cable (Comcast channel 10 and Gamewood channel 122). The taped broadcast is available now on River City TV’s Facebook page and the City’s YouTube channel -- DanvilleVAGov.